State Route 5, 14501 John Tyler Hwy., Charles City, Va. sherwoodforest.org.
John Tyler, the 10th president, is a president of many firsts. He was William Henry Harrison’s vice president, and when Harrison died after 32 days in office from complications from pneumonia, Tyler became the first vice president to assume the nation’s highest office after the president’s death. He was the first president to become a widower while in office, and then the first to marry while in office. In a related development, Tyler also had the most children of any president (“that we know of,” said the Sherwood Forest tour guide, delicately). He had eight by his first wife and seven by his second. The new Mrs. Tyler was in her 20s when they married and had a magnificent sense of occasion. Julia Tyler started the tradition of having “Hail to the Chief” played for the president’s arrival at official occasions. She also is said to have been the first to bring waltzing into the White House, a scandalous thing. Tyler knew he had to spruce up Sherwood Forest to keep pace with her appetites. He added a long, narrow wing on the house especially for dancing the Virginia reel, with a vaulted ceiling for good acoustics.
In residence: Tyler was born three miles from Sherwood Forest at Greenway Plantation. He bought the 1,600-acre Sherwood Forest (originally called Walnut Grove) in 1841. After Tyler left office in 1845, he lived at Sherwood Forest until his death in 1862.
Admission: Self-guided grounds tour, $10. House tour by appointment only, $35.
Tour highlights: Look closely at the servants’ stairway, and you’ll see a shadowy face in the wall. Affectionately known as the Gray Lady, the face reappears no matter how often the wall is repainted, or so I’m told. It is pretty creepy-looking. It’s apparently a lasting impression of a servant who lived in the house before Tyler bought it and who’s responsible for strange rustlings and door slammings.
Surprising fact: Since John Tyler’s day, the house has been continuously inhabited by the Tyler family. In fact, a grandson of the president, Harrison Tyler, who is the youngest surviving son of one of John Tyler’s youngest children, lived at Sherwood Forest until just recently. He now lives nearby.
What to know before you go: There is no gift shop, but the administrative office on the grounds has a few books and postcards for sale.